12 October 2011

Zimbabwe: Occupational Safety Vital


Work-related casualties continue to be a cause of major concern and the latest statistics availed by the National Social Security Authority show there is no let up to the phenomenon. Up to the end of August this year, 2 395 serious injuries and 47 fatalities had been reported.

The highest number of casualties and fatalities was reported in the metal fabrication and processing sector, followed by transport and storage, mining and lastly the wood and products sector. There is growing concern that this year's figures could surpass last year's statistics of 4 410 serious injuries and 90 occupational related deaths.

An abstraction of the previous years also reveals a worrying trend of work-related casualties and fatalities.

In 2006, there were 6 369 serious injuries with 81 fatalities, while 2007 saw the recording of 6 117 serious injuries of which 72 were fatalities. In 2008, there were 3 810 serious injuries with 65 fatalities, and 2009 experienced 3 122 serious injuries and 64 fatalities.

There is no question that accidents are costly to business and society. Today, failure to prevent injuries to employees is indefensible because of the amount of specialised knowledge, systems and technology at our disposal in this field. The practical and moral aspects of accident prevention are inter-related, because accidents result in a waste of manpower and resources, and physical and mental anguish.

Needless destruction of life and health is an indefensible moral evil. Therefore, when a worker is killed or injured in the course of duty creating wealth, it is like cutting the hand that feeds you. Failure to take necessary precautions against predictable accidents involves moral responsibility for those accidents.

In this view, employers are more blameworthy when their employees are injured or killed at work because it is the responsibility of the employer to employ available systems to trigger precaution against accidents and ill healthy.

Accidents produce far reaching social harm; we lose our peers, skilled personnel and goods become more expensive due to occupational accidents.

In this way even the unborn child suffers from the effects of uncontrolled occupational accidents.

It is time to rededicate ourselves to the creation of hazard free work environments in Zimbabwe and encourage employers and employees together to place safety and health protection high on the agenda.

Every nation is built on its workers and all forms of work must be rendered safe before production takes place. It is encouraging Government's position is that occupational safety and health should be integrated into the day-to-day business management in every workplace in Zimbabwe.

No employer should run any business without safety and health management systems in place.

The incidents of occupational injuries and diseases have caused continued suffering of workers, their dependents and the nation at large.

The statistics in Zimbabwe are already too high for an economy, which is not operating at full capacity.

Zimbabwe has formulated legislation such as the Pneumoconiosis Act that seeks to protect workers who work in dusty environments. However, experts say the Act needs to be reviewed as it protects unfit workers to work in dusty conditions, but does not offer means of protection for those who are pronounced fit to work in the environment.

Workers who work in dusty conditions have for long been given a pint of milk by unscrupulous employers, yet milk has nothing to do with absolute protection.

On the pneumoconiosis disease front - which is incurable once it has set in - 17 cases were diagnosed in 2006, seven in 2007, two in both 2008 and 2009, before an explosion of 13 cases in 2010.

From January to August this year, seven cases have been identified. There is a feeling that some occupational related diseases were going undetected. There are always risk factors associated with heavy manual lifting of goods that can lead to musculoskeletal disease.

An analysis of the uncomfortable trend in occupational injuries, diseases and death reveals several causative factors. These include an improvement in industrial production capacity utilisation from 10 percent in 2009 to 47 percent in 2010.

Liquidity problems and lack of credit lines leading to restricted recapitalisation and use of outdated and old machinery and equipment has also been detrimental.

The advent of some new investors in Zimbabwe who do not espouse Occupational Safety and Health as part of their business management system has been another contributing factor.

Other serious causes have been the engagement of new employees who are not aware of the safety and health procedures, and the re-engagement of old employees from long layoffs which made them to forget crucial safety and health dos and don'ts.

Excessive use of contract workforce with no training for the job and very low level of safety and health awareness can not also be overlooked. Experts have for long lamented that the OHS coverage by NSSA has remained below optimum due to budgetary constraints. To achieve decent work for employees, there is need to craft strategies for special emphasis.

The tripartite Zimbabwe Occupational Safety and Health Council should be the key driving force in ensuring that safe, healthy and decent work prevails in our economy. It is therefore important that ZOHSC continues to engage its membership to discuss interventions, national OHS policies and formulae for decent work.

Adoption and implementation of safety and health management systems by industry should be compulsory without exception. The good thing about a systems approach to the management of OHS is that it is

voluntary and works even where there are no strong laws. It is heartening to note that NSSA and ZOHSC are preparing the groundwork for the ratification of Convention 187, which deals specifically with safety and health promotion.

Further, Government is intending to harmonise all OSH legislation to ease the implementation burden by employers, OSH practitioners and investors. The tripartite partners should also fight tooth and nail to prevent HIV and Aids in the workplace, as they undermine and threaten every aspect of the decent work agenda.

According to the International Labour Organisation, nine out of 10 people living with HIV and Aids are of working age. Accordingly, HIV and Aids should be an integral part of well managed occupational safety and health programmes at the workplace.

The human cost of daily tragedies due to occupational accidents in Zimbabwe is immeasurable, while many hazards have remained hidden and ignored.

A national policy on OHS was initially adopted in 1993 following the re-launch of the ZOHSC, and NSSA was established with the responsibility to administer both OHS and social security.

The national OHS policy is reviewed every five years, and the last review was in 2006.

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